There was a time when people thought Tony Ferguson could defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov

May 16, 2021 07:33 PM IST

Ferguson was one of the most highly-rated athletes in the UFC, with moves that would inspire awe from the fans as well as the critics. He was supposed to fight Khabib five times. So did Tony really stand a chance against one of the most dominant fighters in MMA history?

If any Mixed Martial Arts fan had to name an exciting and dangerous fighter in the UFC, many would turn their eyes towards Tony Ferguson. The Mexican-American was one of the most highly-rated athletes in the UFC, with moves that would inspire awe from the fans as well as the critics.

Khabib Nurmagomedov with Tony Ferguson.(Getty Images)
Khabib Nurmagomedov with Tony Ferguson.(Getty Images)

He went on a 12-fight win streak that started in 2013. Big names like Rafael dos Anjos, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and Kevin Lee were dispatched by Ferguson. However, there was one fighter that everyone wanted to see match up with Tony. It was Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Russian was unbeaten in the UFC, tearing the lightweight division down with his relentless wrestling.

Tony vs Khabib was the fight that fans, critics, and even the matchmakers wanted to see. It was scheduled five times. Yes, five times before being canceled due to a variety of reasons.

They were supposed to fight in 2015 but Khabib pulled out due to a rib injury. Then next year, Ferguson was forced out as he did not receive medical clearance. That wasn't the end of the saga.

On April 1 (April Fool's Day), only six days before the big fight was supposed to happen, Ferguson had to pull out. Why? Because he tripped over a wire during media interactions and sustained a ligament tear in his knee.

However, the anticipated fight was finally supposed to take place in 2020 with Khabib defending his belt against Ferguson at UFC 242. But fate always had other plans for this fight. The Covid-19 pandemic happened and the fight was called off as Khabib couldn't make it due to travel restrictions. This time fighters were healthy but it still couldn't take place. Talk about being 'cursed'.

That did not stop the fans and critics to speculate what would have happened if the fight had gone down. There was popular opinion that Tony was the toughest fighter that Khabib could face. He had an unorthodox style which was good on the mat while being explosive in stand-up. Many experts said Khabib would have been wary of Tony's ground game as he had the ability to submit his opponents (ask Lee) even while being on his back.

Tony was called 'El Cucuy' for a reason. He was the boogeyman and could continue to fight even while being struck. He would bloody his opponents with elbows, punches, and kicks. And even Khabib recognized that. He always respected Tony Ferguson's fighting abilities. He called him a good fighter and said he might be a tough opponent.

Tony also never missed a chance to land barbs at him. He always maintained that Khabib 'chickened out' of their fight. So did Tony really stand a chance against one of the most dominant fighters in MMA history?

It seems unlikely in 2021. Since the cancelled Khabib fight, Tony has gone on a three-fight losing streak. It ain't just the losing that has lessened his stock but the manner in which he has lost. He was 'El Cucuy' for so long that fans always expected a unique finish from him. But that never came against Justin Gaethje, where he was found out. He then fought Charles Oliveira last year to prove he still belongs at the top. It went the other way as Oliveira completely dominated him.

In 2021, 37-year-old Ferguson again got a chance to now prove he wasn't finished. He even talked about Khabib in the lead-up. He was asked to focus on his opponent Beneil Dariush by Khabib, who he called an underappreciated lightweight.

What happened during the fight at UFC 262? Dariush proved Khabib right as he mauled Ferguson for three rounds. It never looked like Ferguson had a chance against 9th-ranked Dariush. And it was his wrestling that pummeled Ferguson. The commentators even mentioned that due to Ferguson being in so many 'wild' fights in his career, he might have not focussed on 'fundamentals'. How times have changed.

So what could happen if Ferguson had faced Khabib. It is anybody's guess right now. Reportedly, the Dagestani fighter has even commented on why he wanted to have a match against Ferguson.

There was an aura around Tony. He talked trash but backed it up in the Octagon. He was 'El Cucuy' - The Boogeyman. But it looks like age has caught up with him. He is expected to fall out of the top-10, with many calling him to even retire. Just last year people thought Tony Ferguson could defeat Khabib Nurmagomedov.... seems like a lifetime ago now.

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